- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

South Bend, Ind., long ago made a seismiclike mental shift to La La Land. It is the thinking that a rich tradition somehow makes Notre Dame different from all the rest, a little better than everyone else. It is the tradition of the Four Horsemen, of Knute Rockne, of Frank Leahy, of Ara Parseghian. It is a tradition that is shown on black-and-white film, that is so last century, that does not connect with blue-chip recruits today.

Get with it, Notre Dame. Get with 2009, with the reality that most college football programs are only as fashionable as their last season, their last bowl appearance, their last first-round draft pick.

If tradition were the self-sustaining solution that Notre Dame and many of its “Subway Alumni” believe it to be, General Motors and Chrysler never would have needed one penny of taxpayer money to save their flawed economic models.

Yet the Irish persist with their conceit, fostered in part by their exclusive television contract with NBC.

It is a conceit that breeds unrealistic expectations and swallows up otherwise good people. It is a conceit that dwells on yesteryear’s laurels, even as the Irish dropped two of their last three meetings to Navy, a nice program but hardly the powerhouse that it was in the days of Roger Staubach.

And Notre Dame is yesteryear’s program. It is all warm and fuzzy, nostalgic, the cornball stuff that would delight Frank Capra. It is win one for the Gipper. And Rudy, too.

But none of this is apt to lure a precocious teen to the campus. None of this speaks to a teen’s future - as the future is defined by his parents and buddies. That future, however misguided, often comes with the dream of an NFL roster spot.

What all too many teens care about is playing time, exposure and a program’s marketing machine. What they care about is the number of current players from a program earning a living in the NFL.

Yet each time the Notre Dame football succumbs to a coaching change because of its downward trajectory, you hear the same old spiel. You hear about all its mystique. You hear about Touchdown Jesus.

What you do not hear much about is Notre Dame’s mostly irrelevant state in this decade. What you do not hear much about is that it has been ranked in the top 10 only twice in the decade: a No. 5 ranking in 2005 and a No. 10 ranking in 2000. What you do not hear much about is that Notre Dame has forged only five winning seasons out of the past 10.

There has been a certain familiarity to Notre Dame’s football fortunes in the past decade.

A new coach is hired and energizes the program for a season or two. The new coach then hits a recruiting wall, and the howls of protest ensue. The new coach eventually morphs into the badgered coach until he is relieved of his duties, and school officials, fans, alumni and boosters are left to cling to that which no longer has relevance.

They eventually brokered a peace with that reality at West Point and the Naval Academy, the one-time stalwarts whose strict requirements and military commitment eventually were eclipsed by the changing dynamics of college football and the culture around it.

To hear the Notre Dame faithful tell it, you might think its last national championship was several seasons ago instead of in 1988. You might be surprised to learn the Irish have a so-so 70-52 record in the past 10 seasons.

That record hardly makes them the dregs of college football. But it is a long way from their four national championships in seven seasons in the 1940s.

Anyone who cares about Notre Dame football might want to commit these facts to memory during the tenure of the next football coach.

Judge the coach and the team on what is and not what was a lifetime ago.

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